The Term of the Collective Unconscious (1936), Part 2


I see and know as I want to write part 2 of my latest post, I still have some “serial” posts waiting to continue writing, but I believe this one is important enough to continue first! Therefore, let’s keep up this one to find out our own inner past, which I count on. And as Jung himself mentioned: the second is a presentation of its importance for psychology.

To be honest, I would like to ask Dr Jung if he believes in reincarnation, as I think in the permanent exams which we must get through! For me, there is a solid relationship to our past; if we only remember, it could free us from this lockdown of our understanding. Anyway, let’s go on.; (As we read, there are some ads in the human soul which separate us from animals, apart of instinct.)

2; The psychological meaning of the collective unconscious. (a)

Our medical psychology, which grew out of professional practice, emphasizes the personal nature of the psyche. I mean primarily the views of Freud and Adler. It is a psychology of the person, and its etiological or causal factors are considered almost entirely personal in nature. After all, even this psychology is based on certain general biological factors, such as the sexual instinct or the urge to assert oneself, and by no means merely on personal idiosyncrasies. It is compelled to do so insofar as it claims to be an explanatory science. Neither of these views disputes the instincts that animals and humans share nor their impact on personal psychology. Instincts, however, are non-personal, widespread and hereditary factors of a motivating character, which are often so remote from the fringes of consciousness that modern psychotherapy is faced with the task of helping the patient to become aware of them.

Moreover, the instincts are not in their nature, unclear and vague. Still, they have specifically formed drives that pursue their inherent aims long before any realization, regardless of any degree of awareness. Hence they form very close analogies to the archetypes, so close that there is reason to believe that the archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves; in other words, they represent the basic pattern of instinctual behaviour.

Therefore, the collective unconscious hypothesis is about as daring as the assumption that instincts exist. It is fair to say that human activity is, to a large extent, influenced by instincts apart from the rational motivations of the conscious mind. Now, suppose it is asserted that innate and universal principles of form influence our imagination, perception, and thinking equally. In that case, it seems that a normally functioning understanding can discover just as much or just as little mysticism in this idea as in the instinct theory. Although this accusation of mysticism has often been levelled against my view, I must once again emphasize that the notion of the collective unconscious is neither a speculative nor a philosophical but an empirical matter. The question simply is; do such universal forms exist, or do they not? If there is, then there is an area of the psyche that can be called the collective unconscious. Diagnosing the collective unconscious is not always an easy task. It is not enough to emphasize the often apparent archetypal nature of unconscious products, for these can just as easily be inferred from acquisitions through language and upbringing. Cryptomnesia should also be ruled out, which in some cases is nearly impossible. Despite all these difficulties, enough individual cases remain that show, beyond a reasonable doubt, autochthonously resurrected mythological motifs. If such an unconscious exists at all, psychological explanations must take cognizance of it and subject certain supposedly personal etiologies to more severe criticism.

What I mean can perhaps be explained with a concrete example. You have probably read Freud’s discussion of a particular painting by Leonardo da Vinci (Freud: A Childhood Memoir of Leonardo da Vinci. 1910): Saint Anne with Mary and the Christ Child. Freud explains the remarkable picture in terms of the fact that Leonardo himself had two mothers. This causality is personal. We do not wish to dwell on the fact that such images are anything but unique, nor on the slight disagreement that Saint Anne is the grandmother of Christ, but emphasize that there is a non-personal motive intertwined with the apparently personal psychology, which we know well from elsewhere. It is the motif of the two mothers, an archetype that can be found in many variants in the fields of mythology and religion and forms the basis of numerous representations of collectives. I might mention, for example, the motif of dual parentage, that is, human and divine parentage, as in Heracles, who, unwittingly adopted by Hera, attained immortality. What is a myth in Greece is even a ritual in Egypt. There the pharaoh is by nature both human and divine. In the birth chambers of the Egyptian temples, the pharaoh’s second divine conception and birth are depicted on the walls – he was “twice-born”. This is an idea that is the basis of all reincarnation mysteries, including that of Christianity. Christ himself was born twice; through baptism, he was born of water in the Jordan and again of the Spirit.

Consequently, in the Roman liturgy, the baptismal font is referred to as “Uterus Ecclesia”,; and as one can read in the Roman Missal, it is still called that today, in the consecration of the baptismal water on the Sabbath Sanctum, the Saturday before Easter. Be that as it may, in early Gnosticism, the Spirit, appearing in the form of a dove, was envisioned as Sophia, Sapientia, Wisdom, and the Mother of Christ. Because of these motives of dual parenthood, instead of having good and evil fairies performing a “magical adoption” with curse or blessing, children today are given godparents, namely (Swiss German) “Götti” and “Gotte”, (English) “Goldafter” and “Godmother”.

The idea of a second birth is temporally and spatially widespread. In the early days of medicine, it appears as a magical remedy; in many religions, it is the mystical experience; it forms the central idea of medieval natural philosophy and, last but not least, the infantile fantasy of many small and “grown” children who believe that their parents are not their real, but only adoptive parents to whom they were handed over. Benvenuto Cellini, for example, also had this idea, as he reports in his autobiography. (Cellini: Life of the B’C’, translated and edited by Goethe, 1803)

To be continue… 🙏💖


On “The concept” of the collective unconscious (1936): Lecture 1936 in the Abernethian Society at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, under the title “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious < published in the journal of that hospital, XLIV, London 1936/37, p .46-49 and 64-66. The first edition of the German translation in Collected Works (CW), Volume 9/1, pp. 55-66.

The image at the top: from Pixabay

12 thoughts on “The Term of the Collective Unconscious (1936), Part 2

  1. It’s interesting that you mention a painting of two mothers by Leonardo da Vinci, because his famous cartoon (The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist) is a favourite of mine. When I first saw it, I fell to my knees in the middle of the gallery, completely overwhelmed by its inner and outer beauty and grace. Great post Aladin, I’ll look forward to the next instalment. Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, my lovely angel. Yes! Jung here reminds of the Freund’s book: A Childhood Memoir of Leonardo da Vinci from 1910. I will share more of it in the next parts, and I think I would as well fall to my knees when I confront the image! Your beautiful words fulfilling my heart. 🙏🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  2. elainemansfield

    Thank you, Aladin. I was brought up on classes on the Collective Unconscious, but can’t articulate what I learned other than a deep belief in a guiding inner archetypal wisdom and our feep interconnection. You’re tackling the hard ideas and I’m in awe. I love both Leonardo da Vinci images of Mother and Child. They teach me the most about being connected with Divine Mother. Be well–and I’ll try to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Elaine. I agree it is a complex topic; Jung’s ideas almost need some challenge. However, I feel he is talking about what I knew once and have forgotten! I am sure you understand what I mean, though; thank you so much for your appreciation, my wise friend. Blessing.

      Liked by 1 person

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